By Brendan J. King:

If you are the parent, grandparent or other caretaker of an autistic or special needs individual, there are specific details that must be addressed in your estate plan. The planning process considers financial, legal and lifetime needs for yourself, your family and your special needs loved one, including how you want to provide for him or her should you die or become too ill to provide care. In working with an estate planning attorney, you will explore important issues that you might not have even considered such as:

  • The person that you want to be the guardian/conservator of your minor child (if applicable)
  • The person who will be the guardian/conservator of your adult child if one is needed
  • Your choice of who you want to act as Trustee of the ongoing special needs trust, and if that individual is willing to act in that capacity
  • When your child reaches adulthood, will you need to become his or her court-appointed guardian or can that step be avoided by having your child sign a durable power of attorney and health care proxy, assuming he/she has the capacity to do so
  • Have you met with your financial advisor to analyze your finances and identify vulnerabilities when you are no longer there
  • How you plan to allocate your assets among your other children/beneficiaries
  • A detailed written plan for the guardian and trustee so they know how to manage your loved one’s life; it should include eating habits, medication and allergies, sleeping preferences, behavior management, social life, end-of-life preferences – in short, all of the services you provide daily that will help them to be a better caretaker
  • Tax implications in leaving assets to your special needs child

Additionally, you and your attorney will also address current or future eligibility for programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and how inheritance of assets and the administration of special needs trusts could impact those benefits.

The ultimate goal in the estate planning process is to have a set of legal and financial tools that are  tailored to your needs and that ensure that all your loved ones, particularly those most vulnerable, will  be cared for when you are no longer able to do so. For additional information, please click on Special Needs Trust: How Will it Help Parents?

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